As line manager responsible for Fresh Del Monte’s Network Shipping (NWS) account, all I can say is I don’t get much time for polishing my literary talents. Since we were appointed third-party liner agent for NWS in March 2021, initially three strings covering Guatemala and Costa Rica to the US East Coast port of Gloucester, a Costa Rica to Manatee string, and a third string servicing Guatemala to Galveston, we’ve been working flat out to grow the business. Our remit covers import and export sales, cargo release, trade management, and customer service in the US, marketing NWS’s fantastic new energy-efficient reefer containerships so they’re plugged up to the gunnels in both directions.
Pushing in the same direction
My job is basically managing up, sideways and down, taking care of multiple stakeholders including our fantastic external agents. We’re in touch with the NWS guys pretty much daily. They know fruit inside out and we know trade management inside out, so they’re always ready to listen. It’s a strong relationship that’s panning out nicely.
Why I’m over the moon
Just through organic market growth with new customers, we managed to hit our two-year growth goals in only 12 months and exceeded our revenue budget. Year to date, we’ve landed more business than in the first six months of 2021, and along the way, NWS has expanded to Peru and Ecuador, and we’ve added a fourth string to the port of Hueneme in sunny California.
A lot of the business has a very long tail
Our geographic customer tally is now around 300, and more than one-third of them send less than one reefer box per week on average. You must fill those slots and every bit of ‘Mom and Pop’ business means the world to us. Cargo is mostly perishables northbound, and from the US it’s anything that can go in a container that isn’t hazardous. It’s super-important to have that visibility, and special kudos goes to our local experts on the ground and their deep market savvy. You’re working wonders.
I’d be lying if I said it’s all plain sailing
One big market-related challenge is explaining to puzzled customers the knock-on effects of intermodal landside delivery problems in the US, namely port congestion, and gaps in the logistics chain. Operational issues like this are out of our control, but I totally get how frustrating it is when you want to get product to market ASAP.
These market cracks aren’t just down to Covid, which did, of course, throw a spanner in the works. Congestion in the larger US West Coast terminals has been trickling down to smaller back-up ports in the US for years, and it’s the same story with equipment control. Something like a million boxes locked up in that trade are waiting to unload and basically out of rotation. What can you do?
What’s the nitty-gritty?
The root problems are a mixture of infrastructure issues, strong demand in the US, and the unintended consequences of an ageing society. There’s a chronic shortage of truck drivers, one of the most common jobs in the US for decades. As drivers retire, there are fewer youngsters to replace them; for Gen Z being out on the road is just not that alluring. On top of that, the cost of diesel is going through the roof, especially for gas-guzzling rigs doing 6 miles to the gallon (or 2.5km / litre to the rest of the world).
I’m no policy maker, but in the near term I don’t see any silver bullets. It’ll take a long time just to get the current backlog cleared out. Digitalization will help, plus reviewing the entire trucking chain to make it cheaper, and more attractive as a career. It’s not going to happen overnight.
My lucky liner vocation
I think why we’ve done so well on the NWS account is the sheer amount of liner experience we share as a team. Just our leadership quartet has more than 100 man-years in the business, which enabled us to hit the ground running. I, for one, enjoy the liner game tremendously; it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. My Dad was in it too, in the 1960s when containerization was still new.
Around the world in a paragraph
I’ve now worked in just about every liner function over the last 20 years. My first job out of school was in operations and equipment control for NYK Line, where I ended up in transpac trade management. From there I moved to Tropical Shipping looking after the Leeward Islands. Next, I joined Maersk based variously in New Jersey, Panama, Tokyo, Singapore twice, and finally Copenhagen. Jealous or what?! But in 2013 it was time to come home. I got a job working for UASC until its purchase by Hapag in 2018, then it was back to Maersk working in distribution and finance.
One happy man
Which brings me neatly to Inchcape. I was feeling the call back to line management and the commercial sharp end and helping to build a team from the ground up was too good an opportunity to miss. Now I’m tied to the Network Shipping mast and grinning from ear to ear.